In a GOP presidential contest that scrambles every time the voters speak, anti-Washington sentiment triumphed again with Steve Forbes' victory in Arizona. Forbes' rivals tried to make his free-spending ways an issue Wednesday, but the publisher insisted his message, not his money, was carrying the day.
Bob Dole managed to keep his hopes alive with his dual wins in the Dakotas, but he still hasn't won outside his native Midwest. He said he'll prevail in the first test of Southern sentiment in South Carolina on Saturday. Eight more contests occur next Tuesday.Commentator Pat Buchanan said Wednesday that he would unmask Forbes in the South as a "pro-abortion" social liberal and would try to persuade conservative Democrats in South Carolina to cross over and vote for him. An aide called them "textile Democrats."
"Steve Forbes got about 20 percent of the Christian Coalition religious conservative supporters," Buchanan said in an interview as he headed to a plant and a church rally in South Carolina. "I don't think he deserves those.
"We're going to point out Steve Forbes' record as a social liberal. I don't think Steve Forbes is going to get away with faking a pro-life position in a state like South Carolina."
Dole wore his Senate majority leader hat Wednesday, scheduling a meeting with House Speaker Newt Gingrich to talk about a new effort to pass balanced budget legislation and raise the limit on the debt ceiling - must-do legislative business. He heads south later.
Lamar Alexander announced his candidacy a year ago Wednesday in his hometown of Maryville, Tenn., and celebrated the anniversary by casting his absentee ballot in the Tennessee primary.
"Be sure and count it," he said, smiling, as he left the polling place after posing for pictures with poll workers.
In a speech to supporters, Alexander said Tuesday had changed everything in the Republican race. "There's not a front-runner anymore, and our front-runner can't be a front-runner if he doesn't win primaries, and he hasn't been winning," he said, without noting that he has failed to win any primary so far. He placed fourth in Tuesday's three contests.
A week ago, Forbes looked like a flash in the pan, his flat-tax idea under fire as a gift to millionaires. Now, surprisingly, he leads all contenders in early-state delegates.
Buchanan was also a big loser in Tuesday's primaries and blamed Forbes' deep pockets. So did Dole.
Noting that Forbes spent $4 million on TV ads in Arizona and won some 111,000 votes, Buchanan said, "Clearly our momentum is not enough to overcome $40 a vote."
Grumbled Dole: "What he does, when he spends all that money, it helps Buchanan and drives me down." He also said: "The guy's trying to buy the election."
Replied Forbes: "You spend the money to get the message across and the message carries you. . . . Senator Dole has spent far more money in this campaign than I have."
Forbes is paying for his campaign from his own pocket and so can spend all he wants. His rivals take government money and must live under government spending limits. Dole spent so freely early that he's running into a problem.
South Carolina's mix of displaced textile workers and conservative Christians could provide a sympathetic hearing to Buchanan's anti-abortion and pro-tariff themes. But the entire Republican hierarchy in the state has lined up behind Dole.
Next Tuesday, the pace intensifies with eight primaries in Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont.
Forbes said in a pre-dawn news conference in his native New Jersey that he's pinning his next hope on the March 7 primary in New York, which awards 93 delegates. "I think we have a very good chance of winning New York."
Dole, once the man to beat, professed satisfaction despite his loss in Arizona and predicted he would prevail in South Carolina, dominating the headlines over the weekend.
"My view is I'll be the Republican nominee," Dole said. "It may take a bit longer than we planned."
Because the field isn't winnowing and no clear leader has emerged, some Republicans suggest the nomination will be settled by the convention, not the primaries.
"If no one's running away with it and you've got people taking turns at one-two-three in the primaries, it appears to me that there's a real chance no one would go to the convention with a majority," said Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who supports Dole.
Forbes' showing in North Dakota was solid enough to force Buchanan into a third-place finish there, too. The two traded places in South Dakota.
Forbes, who had finished fourth in Iowa and New Hampshire, scored his first primary victory in Delaware on Saturday. His success in winner-takes-all Arizona awarded him that state's 39 delegates, bringing his total in an Associated Press tally to 60, ahead of all rivals.
Next comes Buchanan with 37 and Dole 35, while Alexander had 10 delegates.
Winning the nomination will require 996 delegates.
In seven primary or caucus contests, Dole has now won three, while the two candidates with no elective experience - Buchanan and Forbes - have each won two.
Tally of votes
Here are the total votes received by Republican presidential candidates in all election contests, in all states, so far.
Dole, 247,425 - 31 pct.
Buchanan, 208,289 - 26 pct.
Forbes, 178,218 - 22 pct.
Alexander, 102,421 - 13 pct.
Keyes, 21,522 - 3 pct.
Lugar, 17,576 - 2 pct.
Gramm, 17,133 - 2 pct.
Taylor, 4,762 - 1 pct.
Others, 2,505 - 0 pct.
Dornan, 1,355 - 0 pct.
Uncommitted, 676 - 0 pct.
No preference, 428 - 0 pct.